Celebrating 50 years of women Readers

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This year marks 50 years since the first women were licensed as Readers in the Church of England.

To celebrate, the Diocese of Chester is hosting a special service and afternoon tea at Foxhill House and Woodlands on Sunday 28 July.

Warden of Readers in the Diocese of Chester, the Revd Vivien Gisby, says: “We wanted to mark the occasion with a celebratory service at Foxhill followed by tea, cake and fellowship. The event will be an informal opportunity for our Readers to meet and chat and for us all to give thanks for their ministry in our Diocese and across the Church as a whole.”

Men have been licensed into the role since 1866, but it was not until 1969 that women were permitted to train to become licensed Readers.

Readers play a vital role in the Church of England. They are lay people from all walks of life that are trained and authorised to preach, teach and lead worship. Every year a cohort of Readers in the Diocese of Chester is licensed by the Bishop of Chester at a special service held at the Cathedral. In the Diocese of Chester today, there are 343 Readers of which 150 are women.

In the Diocese of Chester, we are fortunate that several women licensed in the early 70s and are still serving as Readers today.

Molly Dow

One of the first was Molly Dow, licensed in the Diocese of Rochester in 1970, and now a member of the St. Chad’s leadership team in Romiley, near Stockport.

She says of her decision to train in 1969: “I took a little persuading, but eventually agreed.”

Her husband, Graham, a curate in the Church at that time, had encouraged her to train. She was exempt from most of the essays as she had previously studied Theology at Oxford.

In 1981, they moved to Coventry where Graham became Vicar of Holy Trinity. She says: “He had made it clear to the four churchwardens that having him as their Vicar meant having me as a Reader. Despite one or two reservations, they agreed. Early on, there were a few people who would not receive the chalice from me, but that changed over time.”

Molly Dow describes her Reader ministry as a “privilege and a joy”. 

Margaret Tate

Margaret Tate was licensed in 1972 and knew nothing about training to be a Reader until she received a formal letter from the diocesan office authorising her to train for Reader ministry.

Her Vicar had heard her lead the intercessions several times in the Sunday services and had decided she was good Reader material.

Somewhat bemused, she complied and did well in the training sessions that followed, passing the two exams she was set. Margaret has remained in the parish of St. Peter, Prestbury ever since and still leads most of the Sunday services in the small church in nearby Adlington.

Eileen Delight

Eileen Delight was licensed in the mid-seventies. She too, faced only months of training, rather than years as is required today.

Now living in Macclesfield, Eileen became involved in building up local church teams to go into the local hospital each Sunday to lead services for patients and staff there. She has recently handed on that baton to another would-be woman Reader from her church, Holy Trinity, Hurdsfield.


Eileen Delight is a Reader at Holy Trinity, Hurdsfield.

Thank you to Hellen Watson, Reader at Holy Trinity, Hurdsfield, and Macclesfield Deanery Sub-Warden for her contributions to this article. 

 



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